By JULI GOETZ MORSER
Island native Jacob Bain believes that music, like any art form, has the power to change lives. Founder of the African-influenced hip-hop/pop band Publish the Quest, he’s a true believer — both in the way music profoundly affects his life and the ways he sees music improving the lives of children, seven Zimbabwe girls in particular, orphaned by the country’s pervasive and devastating effects of HIV.
Bain also believes in the transformative power of giving back to others what one once received. That belief has fueled the motivation behind his Kickstarter campaign, “A Quest to Inspire Change.” Funds raised — $13,500 by the unforgiving deadline of Jan. 5 — are earmarked to produce the next Publish the Quest album, featuring a song with the seven girls from Zimbabwe’s Emerald Hills Orphanage, and the companion film “The Truth About 99 Cents.” The film documents Publish the Quest’s (PTQ) collaboration with Zimbabwean musicians to create the song the girls sing, a song Bain hopes will make a difference.
The inspiration for this project arose when PTQ visited several of Zimbabwe’s countless orphanages, playing music with the children and several high-profile Zimbabwe musicians.
“Everyone seemed to have music in their bones, and we were reminded again and again how much music can connect us,” Bain said. “We needed to find a way to give back to these communities that inspired us so much.”
According to Bain, the film tells the story of that connection, “of people coming together to play music and to specifically record one song.”
What distinguishes this Kickstarter fundraiser from so many others is PTQ’s commitment that online sales from each song, at 99 cents each, will go back to Zimbabwe orphanages.
“The truth about 99 cents is that music in our country is incredibly undervalued, in our current music industry,” Bain said, “while that same value of 99 cents means so much in other parts of the world, in some cases the difference between life and death.”
Bain, who as a teenager founded and played guitar with the popular island band Troll’s Cottage, was an early follower of Oliver “Tuku” Mtukdzi, one of Zimbabwe’s most esteemed musicians. Through a series of connections initiated by PTQ’s manager, Johnny Fernandes, the band eventually traveled to Zimbabwe both to perform and to teach music. Of the five trips made to West Africa and Zimbabwe, twice the band presented a collection of donated instruments to PakarePaye, an art center dedicated to instructing children in music, dance and storytelling and founded by none other than Bain’s original musical idol, Tuku. Working with the children became another unexpected joy along Bain’s musical journey.
“Showing somebody his or her first guitar chord or how to hold and blow into a trumpet for the first time is special,” he said. “Sharing songs and ideas about music with new people is one of the most intimate experiences. ... Language barrier or not, music outweighs words.”
And yet for Bain, words as the vehicle for storytelling hold significant meaning. While traveling in Cambodia at age 19, Bain bought a book about the Killing Fields from a child selling used books on the street. At the back of the book, the author summarized the critical reason for telling difficult stories: “If stories are not told, then no one will hear and help.” That idea of storytelling resonated with Bain. Seven years later Bain named his second band Publish The Quest.
Coming full circle, PTQ plans to return to Zimbabwe at the end of April, four years after the band first arrived in the country, to showcase their album and film at PakarePaye. But the fruition of that dream rests heavily on the success of the Kickstarter. In an all-or-nothing bid, according to Kickstarter rules, if the campaign goal is not fully met by its deadline, Jan. 5 in this case, then whatever pledges “A Quest to Inspire Change” receives, they will lose.
On Kickstarter’s website, under “A Quest to Inspire Change,” videos of the Zimbabwean children and musicians explain PTQ’s mission, all with a backdrop of PTQ’s music.
“We need to get the word out,” said islander Peter Welch, a local events coordinator and friend of Bain. “It matters that people know who Jacob is and what he is doing.”